Guest comment: Where ATAS has got it fundamentally wrong

Guest comment: Where ATAS has got it fundamentally wrong
By admin


ATAS  denotes Accredited Travel Agents Supposedly – I think.

While I have deliberately not become involved in commenting on the whole scheme, I have recently been chatting to over 50 of our regular agency clients and also had two radio Q&A  sessions about the concept.

Now I can tell you my thoughts, merged with many other clients thoughts.

When a doctor or lawyer or chartered accountant is listed, advertised or approached the consumer NEED NOT ask them if they are properly insured, trained and updated in their knowledge.

It is a given that they cannot belong to their professional associations or maintain legal trading without such basic elements of accreditations and consumer protections in place.

Yet with a travel agent or agency we expect to adopt a voluntary scheme and also place the onus on a consumer to ask the right questions, view an agencys’ insurance protection certificates and investigate if they are qualified individuals – let alone working under the umbrella of a solid company. After all, they entrust the agency with their valuable monies and travel arrangements and passports and life!

Are you serious !!??

  • Either you are a professional and secured and accredited – or you are not.
  • Either you are pregnant – or you are not.

You cannot be pseudo accredited. You cannot have an opt in or opt out scheme that will confuse consumers.

Most agents will do the right thing and join ATAS and take out all insurances either individually or under a network banner BUT there will definitely be those agents who may or may not join ATAS and trade under that guise, under the smoke and mirrors of being ATAS accredited and also having insurances in place.

No amount of marketing money will solve this dilemma.

No amount of AFTA or industry or COTA input or hot air will convince the public (who are also our clients) otherwise.

I have been on the original three advisory board panels with South Australian Consumer Affairs, as past AFTA state chairman, and on executive councils for  IATA and ATAQ, heading the ATTRP  for all accreditation schemes in Australia.

I hav been around long enough to know that we can expect huge discrepancies with humans out there who will deliberately “work the system”.

I think ATAS has got it fundamentally wrong in its the belief that agents will do it right with the marketing of ATAS to the public that may drive pax to them and allow a point of difference to be noted by all.

This will not happen as planned. There are gaps.

I absolutely respect that most agents, suppliers and wholesalers in their hearts want to do and will do the right thing. That is all fine as I am part of that psyche.

The media and public though, see it differently.

All you need is one or two agents or suppliers to do the wrong thing (accidentally or deliberately) and the media will crucify all of the good agents who are not only ATAS accredited but also have the correct insurances and staff training in place.

The media will have an absolute field day ruining what AFTA and ATAS has setup, and no amount of dollars in reverse marketing will be able to salvage damages done.

They will paint all agents with the same brush and state on TV, radio, websites and print media things like “Even with the new ATAS Scheme, can you really trust the travel Agency you are dealing with ??”  or  “ Does the public have to investigate the credentials of a travel Agency or just bypass them and book on the internet or a Supplier direct……” 

Hence ATAS will fail in its primary mission.

In these days of (stupid) political correctness, the accepted norm to allow  freedom to all to voice opinions and sometimes derail commonsense and moral logic, I think ATAS needs to tighten up the links between having insurances, training and financial checks in place and NOT allow the huge gaps that will see the scheme eroded in its quality image, its solidarity and its ability to make us the most powerful travel source in which consumers should entrust their money and faith into.

We are in the year 2014, with excellent viral, public, internet and blog marketing channels that can easily corrupt and negate and totally destroy any marketing investment of good-faith ideas you may have in ATAS.

No amount of marketing dollars that Helloworld, FCM, Independent, Magellan etc invest will be able to annul or reverse negative publicity that may occur from agents who will (not may) hide under the cloud of ATAS and the good participants who will do the right thing.

FYI : Clients I chatted with were in the absolute majority in stating they want to be able to do business with “qualified, solid, trustworthy agents”  and the companies they trade under WITHOUT reverting to ask questions about their viability or insurances held – especially if bookings are made remotely, via the Internet to a travel agency.

During the media Q&A, the same feelings emerged with some callers stating that they “expected” and also “assumed” that any new scheme would have levels of security, quality staff and insurances in place as a base minimum and they should not have to assume or question such levels of credentials – just like they do not question the credentials of a qualified lawyer, or accountant or doctor.

It should be a given – and not confusing to any consumer. It should be mandatory and not an option to have Insurance protection levels in place.

–  I would never entrust my life to a quack – I want a doctor.

–  I would never give my financials to a bookkeeper – I want a qualified accountant.

–  I would not get a web trained human to give me legal advice – I want a lawyer.

–  I want my travel to be advised, booked, backed up and quantified by a professional – so I go to an accredited, insured (for them and me) and professionally qualified human, so I go to an ATAS-accredited travel agent.

I want certainty and not  a new Accredited Travel Agents Supposedly scheme.

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